Hydrolyzed collagen (HC) is an anti-aging supplement. It is said to reduce wrinkles, alleviate joint pain, improve bone health, promote weight loss, and more.
Collagen contains amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The hydrolyzed form of collagen, also known as collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate, is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Understanding Collagen and Hydrolyzed Collagen
A key protein produced in the body, collagen is found primarily in the skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, and teeth. It plays a critical role in the structure and function of the body’s cells and tissues, such as blood vessels, cornea, gums, and scalp. And it promotes wound healing and bone repair.
With age, collagen production declines. And some people take hydrolyzed collagen supplements in an effort to help restore collagen that has been depleted. Collagen loss starts between the ages of 18 and 29—and after age 40, the body can lose around 1% of its collagen per year; at around age 80, collagen production can decrease by 75% overall in comparison to that of young adults.
The collagen found in supplements can be extracted from several different animal sources, including cows and pigs. Recent research has shown good properties of HC found in skin, scales, and bones of marine sources, such as fish, and invertebrates such as shellfish, jellyfish, or sponges.
Some manufacturers also extract collagen from algae. Alternative sources of HC that have shown great functionality include chicken legs and feet and a frog species found in China and Mongolia.
Health Benefits of Hydrolyzed Collagen
Health benefits of collagen supplements have been reported.
Collagen research has specifically focused on:
- Skin anti-aging
- Bone and joint health
- Wound healing
- Body composition
There is less research on the effects of collagen on weight loss, nail growth, heart health, and eye health.
Collagen makes up around 70% to 75% of our skin, the largest organ in the body, which protects us from external damage, helps regulate temperature and performs other critical bodily functions. As we age, collagen in the skin’s inner layer can deplete, leading to dryness, loss of elasticity, and lines and wrinkles.
A 2021 meta analysis reviewed 19 studies with a total of 1,125 participants that were between 20 and 70 years old. Most of the participants were women. Evidence supports the findings that ingestion of hydrolyzed collagen for 90 days is effective in reducing skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration.
Recent studies have shown oral HC supplements to be effective in slowing down signs of skin aging. In 2017, 120 healthy subjects who ingested a nutricosmetic formulation containing 50 milliliters (mL) of HC or placebo. An analysis revealed that the nutricosmetic formulation produced an improvement in the structure of the epidermis.
The structure and stratification of collagen fibers within the dermis were also improved. In a post-study questionnaire, 95% of the subjects agreed that their skin was more hydrated, more elastic (91.6%), stronger (81.7%), and thicker (91.7%).
Finally, a 12-week study that included 106 subjects concluded that oral consumption of collagen derived from fish led to a significant improvement in over all skin health. At the 12 week mark the test subjects reported greater percentage improvements in overall skin score (9%) and wrinkle (15%), elasticity (23%), hydration (14%), radiance (22%), and firmness (25%) scores vs placebo.
While these studies offer some promising results, the use of collagen supplements in dermatology has been controversial, due to the lack of large-scale randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Furthermore, some people who use collagen-based products for dermatologic purposes may have unrealistic expectations about results.
Joint and Bone Health
To date, there are more than 60 studies about HC efficacy in reducing collagen damage, osteoarthritis (joint pain and erosion), and osteoporosis(bone density loss). These results, as well as a high level of tolerance and safety, can make taking HC appealing for long-term use in bone and joint degenerative diseases.
Recent findings include a study of 51 postmenopausal women with osteopenia (bone loss) that found that adding HCs to calcium and vitamin D supplements may enhance bone metabolism.
In another study of 250 subjects with osteoarthritis of the knee, participants were given 10 grams of HC daily for six months. After the study, there was a significant improvement in knee joint comfort, based on both visual analog and pain scale assessments. Subjects with the greatest joint deterioration benefited the most.
Recent findings show that HC-based supplements could significantly improve wound healing and circulating prealbumin, and clinically reduce time spent in the hospital for burn patients. Low prealbumin found in burn patients at admission is predictive of a longer hospital stay.
In a 2019 pilot clinical trial, 31 adult males with 20% to 30% burns over their total body surface area were randomly assigned to receive either a collagen-based supplement or placebo for four weeks.
Serum prealbumin, rate of wound healing, and length of hospital stay were assessed at baseline, and at the end of weeks two and four. Researchers found that serum prealbumin was significantly higher at week two and week four in the collagen group compared to the control group.
Changes in pre-albumin concentration were also significantly higher in the collagen group at weeks two and four. Hospital stay was clinically, but not statistically, lower in the collagen group compared to the control group.
Another investigation tested the effect of collagen supplementation on the treatment of pressure ulcers (stages II and IV) in 89 long-term care residents.12 Patients treated with collagen demonstrated statistically significant wound healing, as measured by the pressure ulcer scale for healing (PUSH) compared with placebo (score of 3.55±4.66 vs 3.22±4.11).
Although there are few studies conducted on humans about the effects of collagen peptides on body fat reduction, early results show promise. A 2019, study investigated the efficacy and tolerability of skate skin collagen peptides (SCP) on reducing body fat in overweight adults.
Ninety healthy volunteers with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 25.6 ± 1.9 kg/m² were assigned to the intervention group, which received 2000 mg of SCP per day, or to the control group given a placebo for 12 weeks; 81 (90%) participants completed the study.
Changes in body fat were evaluated using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA scan). At the end of the trial, the percentage of body fat and body fat mass in the intervention group was significantly better than those of subjects in the control group. SCP was well tolerated, and no notable adverse effect was reported from either group.
A second study also showed positive results. In a cohort of 77 premenopausal females, resistance training, in combination with collagen supplementation, induced a significantly higher increase in fat-free mass and hand-grip strength than resistance training paired with placebo supplementation.
In addition, there was a significantly higher loss in fat mass and a more pronounced increase in leg strength in the treatment group compared to the control group.
How to Take Hydrolyzed Collagen
In most cases, collagen supplements are ingested orally, as a tablet, capsule, or in powder form. HC is frequently used as an ingredient in food supplements as well, as it has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It can also be consumed by eating bone broth or pork skin.
Depending on the condition being treated, recommended dosages can vary, from 2.5 grams to 30 grams per day. It’s important to note that not all collagen supplements are created equal. That is, many over-the-counter HC supplements contain other ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals, which can complicate figuring out the correct dosage for a specific condition.
How are Collagen Supplements Made?
Collagen supplements are derived from a variety of sources, including the skin, bones, and connective tissues of cows, chickens, pigs, and fish. When denatured by heat, collagen forms gelatin, which has been used for centuries as a food source and traditional medicine. So, in other words, gelatin is a source of collagen peptides. In fact, there is evidence that gelatin provides similar benefits to collagen peptides.
Collagen sources are broken down a little more than gelatin to manufacture hydrolyzed collagen or collagen peptides. The benefit is that collagen peptides have a higher water-solubility and no gelation properties, allowing them to be conveniently formulated into not only powdered mixes but also hot and cold liquid drinks.
It is essential to be aware that there are variations in the quality of collagen supplements. Essentially, a lot of HC supplements purchased without a prescription have other ingredients, including hyaluronic acid, vitamins, and minerals, that can make it difficult to determine the right amount to take for a particular condition.
Alternatives to Collagen Supplements for Joint Health
Obviously, the first thought that you may have to increase the collagen content of the body is simply to take collagen. However, as described above, it may not be that simple.
Collagen supplements can provide the building blocks of collagen manufacture, but the key may be to increase the activity of fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells). Collagen supplements have shown some results in promoting skin and joint health.
For example, in some studies with hydrolyzed cartilage from chicken sternums, subjects taking 1,000 mg per day showed significant improvements in reduced facial lines and wrinkles and crow’s feet lines and wrinkles, as well as increased skin elasticity and skin collagen content. Collagen peptide supplementation has also improved indicators associated with a more youthful skin appearance.
Hydrolyzed cartilage supplements at dosages of 2 g per day have been shown to produce benefits in the joint function of the knee and hip,8 while collagen peptides at dosages of 1.2, 5, or 10 g per day have shown mixed results. The good news is that in the longest study, a six-month trial, significant benefits were noted in improved joint comfort and function.
At 6 months, the proportion of responders to collagen supplementation was significantly higher in the collagen peptide group 51.6%, compared to the placebo group 36.5%. However, there was no significant difference between groups at 3 months (44.1% vs. 39.6%). Perhaps higher doses would have shown better results, but even at 10 g per day, the results have not been consistently impressive.
The seemingly better results with the hydrolyzed cartilage supplement in the short-term trials may be because it also contains low molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HA), while the collagen peptide products do not.
Studies with HA supplementation as well as natural eggshell membrane rich in HA have also shown beneficial effects on joint health, so it’s hard to know if the study results with collagen are due to the collagen or HA.
Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM) appears to produce better results than collagen peptides and other collagen products in joint health. NEM is a source of collagen, HA, and other connective tissue components. Recent studies show that NEM brings fast relief to people suffering from the pain, stiffness, and impaired mobility of osteoarthritis and other joint health problems.
In one clinical study, after 30 days of use NEM reduced pain by an average of 72% and improved flexibility by 44%, without side effects. Rather than simply supplying collagen, it is thought that NEM boosts the production of critical joint molecules like collagen and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), including chondroitin sulfate. GAGs are an important component of cartilage, providing resistance to compression and contributing to the tensile strength of cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
An Important Consideration: What is a Fibroblast?
Collagen ingestion alone may not produce increased collagen manufacture. In order to be available for use in building up body tissues, consume collagen needs to be broken down during digestion and re-structured by specialized cells of the connective tissue called fibroblasts.
Let’s say you owned a ladder manufacturing plant. Do you have to have the vertical and horizontal components to construct a ladder? The ultimate restriction within your factory is not the ladder components, but rather the amount of staff and equipment available to put together the components into ladders.
No matter how many ladder pieces there are in the world, they would be useless without the workers and machinery in a factory in order to assemble the pieces and create ladders. In the body, the collagen factory is the fibroblast. Getting the components essential to the production of collagen can be useful, but more critical is that the fibroblast cells are functional and operating in order to produce collagen.
Collagen plays key roles in the body. People generally make less of it as they age, leading some to take collagen supplements to replace it. This has created a large market for hydrolyzed collagen supplements derived from cows, pigs, chickens, and marine animals. Although some studies involving collagen’s effect on skin, bones and joints, and wound healing have been promising, more research needs to be done.